Skip to main content

Full text of "The Gay Genius"

See other formats

274                             THE GAY GENIUS

fortnight. Twenty days later, on August 25, the communication reached
Su Tungpo. As far as he could see from the official communication,
the most important parts of his first report urging immediate action
had been deleted. Immediately he wrote back to the ministry of ?=he
interior asking for joint investigation, and again demanded that thosi
who disagreed on the prospect of a famine should be made to sign a
statement of their belief.

From the middle of August another downpour had steadily cojf
tinued. The situation became more threatening than ever, and on
September 7, Su Tungpo raised his demand for rice from 200,000 to
500,000 piculs. This rice was intended for stabilisation to force the
price down. Even if the government lost ten cash or one penny per
bushel, or one dime per picul, the total loss to the government woulcj
be no more than $50,000. He was afraid that when the famine actual!)
arrived the government might have to spend ten or twenty times that
amount and yet not be able to save all the starving people. This requej|
was granted by the Empress but^ as we shall see, there were always
ways for bureaucrats to frustrate an imperial edict. Su still had some
cash in the government treasury, but the question was not where to get, but where to get the rice. The merchants were hoarding the
grain in anticipation of rising prices. At Soochow, prices had already
soared to 95 cash per bushel. Su Tungpo offered to buy rice, but could
not obtain much. He secured thirty thousand bushels here and forty
thousand bushels there. That was all. The officials in the neighbour
ing districts were not willing to buy in the grain on account of thf
high prices. Su Tungpo believed that the government should go intc
the market and pay what the merchants offered and be prepareoljli
sell at a loss.

Time was running short, for rice from the harvest would be bough
up within a few weeks. It looked pretty bad all round, even in th<
neighbouring districts. In despair Su Tungpo wrote again in the lattei
part oŁ September asking that the government order the officials to
buy rice from Honan and Anhuei and have it stored at Yangchow to
be held ready for distribution to the lake district when the famine
arrived. His plan was that the rice was to be kept there midway, and
if it was not needed, it could always be sent on to the capital. Hang-
chow could pay for it by the equivalent of what they sent for the annual
contribution in ricet Again his request was granted, and the Empresf
allocated the sum of $1,000,000 for this purpose. In the postscript to this
third report he said: "This year's calamity is in reality worse than that
of kst year, but officials high and low prefer to conceal the actual con-
ditions* Recently over forty people were trampled to death in a riot
because the magistrate of Kiashing refused to accept the people's
demand for relief. Most of the officials are like that. The case of